Saturday, January 18, 2014

10 video games that impacted me

As a game developer/programmer, at one point I feel that it is worth reviewing what games impact my life, to find out the reasons behind the design decisions I make. This is obviously a difficult list to construct as I have played so many games up to this point. Being born in 1988 and having cousins and friends that grew up playing games means that I have the wonderful exposure to a great variety of games before my time on top of games during my time, and also after my time (i.e. games that I am not supposed to be playing at a certain age).

I decided that these 10 games are somewhat not listed in any particular order. It's hard enough to come up with a list of 10 games that impacted me. This means that I not only enjoy these games, but they also impacted me with its genius gameplay/music/mechanics/dynamics/aesthetics/art/concept that they made me view games development differently in some ways and also the reason behind some of my game design decisions. Then again, it is highly likely that maybe the top 5 are ranked higher in my opinion to the bottom 5. 

Anyway enough words. I can rant about it all day. Here are my top not-listed-in-any-order 10 games that impacted me.

1. Final Fantasy 6
I might be biased with FF6 because it is the first RPG I ever played. However, I can't bring up reasonable reasons to debunk it from my list. FF6's cast of 12 unique characters and 2 secret characters were amazing. They all had their own unique mechanics, most stole a good amount of time explaining their background stories and they were ALL memorable in many ways. 

I just find FF6's storytelling very special because there is no real main character. People have debated over who the real main character is. Celes? Locke? Terra? My answer is that they all are main characters. The characters take turns being the driving force behind an arc. Sabin/Mash led an arc. Edgar led an arc. Even Cyan led an arc. It feels like you know the real reason behind every character's motivation to save the world.

Of course, there's the awesome artwork. Since I am trying to create an sprite-based RPG, I realized that what they did to their sprite animations were very creative. Not forgetting the genius music of uncle Nobuo too. Not much to explain here; his music has always been highly regarded.

In my opinion, FF6 is very darn near perfectly developed. Story is great and did not interrupt gameplay pacing, mechanics incorporated made sense in the game environment, almost every of the 12 characters were given the spotlight in the main plot, music was awesome, art was fantastic, the list just goes on. Sometimes it gives me a headache on how the game developers manage to put all those ideas together and not cause the game to implode.

2. Everquest
Seriously, I didn't want to explain my reason behind this because it is difficult. I wanted to go like "You old Evercracks understand why" and leave it at that, but that obviously won't do, right? =)

So here I go.

Everquest was introduced to me by my good friend John. At that time, we were kids at 14 years of age and were really interested in fantasy stuff like DnD unlike other kids. Thinking back, I guess I would've been really into Diablo 2 or Ragnarok Online if not for Everquest and things might have gone differently. Either way, let's talk about Everquest.

Everquest, to me, is like the USA Basketball Dream Team of 1992. Due to its circumstances, luck and what its made of, it became a legend that will never be repeated again. To put it bluntly, it was an accident. At my time of playing (think I missed the vanilla bandwagon and entered at Velious or Luclin when the game was arguably supposedly declining), I think there were like 12-14 races, almost all of them having their own unique starting location. Classes were each remembered for their uniqueness. Raiding, even if it was invented in some other game before, started with this game.

The game was also one of the exemplary "immersive" games. Lighting played a role, along with Dark Vision/Low-light vision. I remembered creating a Human after playing a Wood Elf for so long and was surprised at how I couldn't see in the dark (I had to max out my gamma settings). The games was also mainly played in first person, mainly because the third person camera sucks, adding on to the immersiveness. And yes, those were the days of exploration with maps, following roads hoping that you were walking in the right direction, asking passer-bys to confirm, memorizing the whole of Kelethin and leading lost newbies to their destinations.

Everquest was also extremely brutal, especially now when you consider other MMOs that arise. Experience loss upon death, begging for cleric rez to get your experience points back, respawning naked and needing to travel back to your corpse (like Diablo 1/2, but definitely a lot worse), begging necromancers to summon your corpse because you cannot remember where it was lost, easily more than half the classes cannot solo, the list just goes on. It's not necessarily a good thing, but this post is about games that impacted me which does not necessarily bring up good points (usually it will though). I remember mourning (at myself) for every death that happened in the game.

I had tons of memories in the world of Norath, both good and bad. Wandering in the game felt just as fun as leveling up. Thinking back, the grind was seriously ridiculous though, but hey it's one of the first MMOs to ever be created. Games made back then tend to be harder.

3. Fallout 2
It was hard to decided between this and Fallout Tactics, and much harder to say which comes up on top because both are essentially very different games. I have to give Fallout 2 the lead in the end though. Fallout 2 was the first open-ended world game I have played that has no time limit restrictions (Fallout 1 had). The pacing was great and blends well with the story, giving you a crappy spear (since you start as a tribal), then giving you a really crappy gun and finally when you first get your handgun you fell like a god. Everyone who played Fallout 2 remembers the dumb spear you have to live through the starting part of the game. Also, speech dialogues and dialogue options were so good that it makes you wonder why games nowadays fail to accomplish such depth (probably second only to Planescape: Torment). Did they spend so much time on 3D animations and graphics that they neglect storytelling as a whole? Entirely possible.

The amount of content was immense. There is just so many things to do that you will forget what is the main objective in the first place. It was like the Skyrim of the past, though Skyrim was nowhere as complex mechanically (sorry, I'm not a Skyrim fan so don't hate me). The NPCs that follow you were really memorable, whether they have a bone through their noses or not. You have no idea how shocked I was when I saw what happened to Harold in the later Fallout games. Harold, to me, is the second most memorable non-party NPC in Fallout 2. First, of course, goes to Lynette whom we all love to hate.

4. Baldur's Gate 2
After mentioning Fallout 2, it's only fair to mention Baldur's Gate 2 from Bioware. In my opinion, Baldur's Gate 2 was the best game Bioware ever made; better than Old Republic, better than Mass Effect, better than Neverwinter Night, better than Dragon Age and without debate better than Jade Empire.

Baldur's Gate 2 had very memorable characters, most of them complete with background story and their own OST. Speaking of OST, this game had a pretty decent one. Side quests are epic, involving plane shifting, fighting demi-liches (as if liches were not epic enough!), dragons that lag your computer for no reason, beholders that run a cult, etc. Itemization and loot were done well compared to RPGs of today. Just an example, do you remember what killing dragons yield you in Dragon Age? I don't. Killing dragons in BG2 yields you a whooping +5 Holy Avenger that can be upgraded to +6 later in the game.

Overall, the game has pretty good replay value considering that some party members you obtain don't really get along with each other and considering how many different classes and kits there are in the game. You will replay just to form a different team of characters and try out different classes and their nonsense.

4. Capcom vs SNK 2
This game got me into the fighting game scene many years back and is still one of my favorite fighting game of all time despite how broken the game is. The ability to select UP TO 3 characters, choose your meter-type (groove), and adjust their power level (ratios) allows for theoretically tons of combinations. The game boasts over 40 characters, very distinct OST that loops in my head even today and a very memorably annoying in-game announcer.

In all, the game is very polished (except for Morrigan and her really badly done sprite sheet) and has been one of the fighting game community's major tournament games back than before Street Fighter 4.

5. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
For basically the same reason as CVS2; UMVC3 is a game with tons of possibilities. Because I missed the MVC2 bandwagon back then, competitive fighting games that can have 6 characters on the screen at the same time is totally new to me. On top of that, this game is extremely hype. No matter how much I hate it for its brokeness, just commentating or watching people play the game is fun.

I don't think I have played around in any fighting game's training mode longer than UMVC3's. It's not just to figure out frames, setups and combos, but also to experiment with other teams and making them work decently. It's like forming a deck in trade card games but with your skills coming into play.

6. Atelier Rorona
And we are back to JRPGs! Rorona is quite an eye-opener for me because up till 2011, I have been playing RPGs (not just JRPGs) with the usual "follow the storyline, level up, get epic loot and kill the boss" type of gameplay. Rorona, or rather, the Atelier Arland series, did not have that. It was essentially a crafting game. If you are familiar with MMOs and tradeskills, this is a game that revolves around it more than fighting.

Basically in Rorona, you need to craft to save your shop. To craft, you have to adventure to pick materials or fight monsters for them. But you see, unlike other RPGs, fighting monsters (or bosses) are just obstacles and a means of getting better material so that you can craft better objects. I find that I spend most of my time in the game looking at my inventory than figuring out dungeons (as if there is a need to figure them out). It was an eye opener and I figured that there are indeed other ways to run RPGs other than "go to dungeons and save the world".

And the reason to craft isn't the same for its other games. The game after it, Atelier Totori, was not about saving any shops, but about crafting to aid Totori's adventures in search for her long lost mother who was also an adventurer. The crafting mechanics is actually very simple to understand but deep, which makes it beautiful.

7. Nethack
I found Nethack around 2004 I think, and it was the game that introduced me to the world of roguelikes (I haven't played Rogue though). The amount of things you can do is insane to the point where I thank the existence of Google, wikis and the Internet. Nethack made me seek other roguelikes old and new: Rogue, Dwarf Fortress, Civilization, Desktop Dungeon, Faster than Light, etc.

I find Nethack to be a nice, light and free game to carry around to play these days. It constantly amazes me that so much content can be stored in under 5MB AND I am playing the graphical version (the text-based version is waaaay smaller). A floppy disk WAS enough to store a playable game!

How did I find a 1980s game at my time? I have no idea, probably stumbled upon it over the Internet.

8. Disgaea
I think Disgaea is the first game that showed me that hitting the maximum level isn't enough. The amount of hours I threw into this game over the course of a year is retarded, and it pales in comparison to other players who have a lot more time in their hands. This is on top of it's unique storytelling, lovable characters and over the top sprite animations. As the series evolved, Nippon Ichi just went nuts with adding crazier animations and grinding mechanics (as if it wasn't enough).

Words just cannot explain the insane numbers the characters' stats can hit in this game. We are not talking thousands, or ten thousands but millions or even billions (I have no idea what kind of numbers Disgaea D2 has). Honestly, when you start playing the game, you have no idea that it is possible to reach those kind of numbers. You can just imagine the feeling of accomplishment when you manage to hit those numbers and also the despair when the monster you challenged ripped you apart with multiples of the same numbers.

9. Touhou: Imperishable Night

If you are searching for free japanese indie games, you will eventually come across this bag of worms (not in a bad way). This game is more inspirational than anything. It was single-handedly developed by ZUN, one of the few game developers out there I really give my hats off to.

The amount of other indie games, fan-comics (doujins) and even music remixes made by other people based on the characters from this series is incredibly phenomenal. Those who know or went to events like Comiket will understand. It's certainly inspiring that a simple bullet hell game made by ONE person could create such an insane craze in Japan, even today.

10. Sengoku Rance
They say leave the best for the last. As if Rorona wasn't eye-opening enough, this game is ridiculous. It's one of the most popular H-game in Japan with incredible amounts of replayability. Sengoku Rance blended RPG with RTK-style games beautifully (supposedly the official genre name of RTK/Civilization games is "Historical War Simulation). It is painful to think that people shun away from this game just because it's a H-game.

Believe it or not, this game has decent storytelling. It is part of Alicesoft's long running Rance RPG series, and has a pretty large English fanbase who are hard at work translating the games for us. Mechanics-wise, this game has much to offer. Equipping characters, recruiting fallen enemies, performing negotiations, multiple endings, different troop types (ninjas, spearmen, foot soldiers, monks, mikos...), conquering enemy countries, dungeoneering for loot, the list just goes on. I think amongst the Rance series, Sengoku Rance is the most popular with the English fanbase and with good reason.

And there's soooooo many unique characters in this game. Again, replayability is the strong point of this game. People have reported to spend 200+ hours just playing this. I obviously have not completed it but I do want to return to playing it.

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